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Students discuss sustainability awareness on campus

Rosa Fallon 
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Environmental Management and Policy major Tamia Dame said she originally planned on majoring in English. This all changed after taking one class. Photo provided by Tamia Dame

After a long, cold and rainy winter, students spend more time outside on the quad, basking in the long-awaited sunshine. For Sophomore Spanish student Julia Dorn, this makes for a perfect time to teach about environmental sustainability awareness.  
The Student Environmental Center, seeks to engage students, faculty and staff in environmental sustainability awareness and action through student-led events, according to Dorn, co-director of the SEC.
The SEC staff strives to pinpoint areas of the student body that may not be as engaged in environmental sustainability and determine how current communication efforts can be improve, Dorn said.  
“We sent out the sustainability survey to the entire student body and got hundreds of responses, which gives us a great sample size to work with to better understand what students know about and what they don’t and what we can focus our outreach efforts on,” Dorn said.
She said she was excited about the survey and the opportunity to determine who may not otherwise be engaged with sustainability on campus.
“I’m most excited about the sustainability survey because I think it’s going to provide us with a lot of feedback on what students do and do not know in terms of the resources and existing initiatives happening on campus,” Dorn said.   
As the survey responses started pouring in, Dorn said she was surprised at the diversity of the respondents.  
“We had students both on and off campus, students from almost every major, which really showed me that people care about sustainability and want to help us improve it,” Dorn said.
Bri Stewart, a sophomore drama and classics student said she cares about environmental sustainability and wants improvements in sustainability outreach from the SEC within the drama and classics departments.  
“I definitely think that the drama department and the classics department are not being reached as fully as they could be,” Stewart said.  
While sustainability outreach in these departments may need improvement, Stewart said faculty and students of the drama department have been taking initiative by putting more effort into sustainable practices within the theater.  
“We are trying to get better at reusing props and wood and costumes,” Stewart said. “Instead of throwing these pieces of wood away, maybe we can find a way to donate them.”
According to Stewart, students in the drama and classics department demonstrated a passion for the Ancient Gardens outside of Whitesides Hall and hope the SEC will help them restore it.
“I do know there is a huge passion for this garden.  It is something that the classics department has really been the owner of,” Stewart said. “There are a bunch of students that are passionate about it, but they don’t know how to get to where we need to be to able to restore this garden.”
Tamia Dame, a junior environmental management and policy student and program assistant for the Office of Sustainability at UNCA, said she thinks engaging students with sustainability efforts is related to students’ studies.
“I think it has to do with people’s studies. If you’re a full time undergraduate college student, then your studies are your primary concern,” Dame said. “It’s about trying to figure out how to get people to care without overloading them with information that is not particularly important to their day-to-day lives, but to the bigger picture, definitely.”
Dame was originally an English student when she came to UNCA, but after taking Liberal Arts 178: Global and Local Sustainability Dame said she was completely intrigued by the environment and sustainability  
“When I first came to UNCA, I did not plan on this.  It was not something I was particularly interested in or had ever thought about. It was like the school kind of chose it for me in some inadvertent way,” Dame said.  
Originally from Lenoir, Dame said she chose UNCA because she has always loves the beauty of the mountains and wants to live a mountain life.
“I had always been in love with the mountains. That is why I came to UNCA in the first place. It was definitely more of a hobby, a sort of aesthetic thing for me. I just wanted to live a mountain life and so I ended up here,” she said.
Her love for the mountains soon combined with her interest in environmental studies.
“I dove straight into the environmental side of why these mountains are important, and the picture just grew bigger from there,” Dame said.  
At UNCA, the SEC strives to communicate the bigger picture of environmental sustainability effectively to students, faculty and staff.  Dame said she thinks sustainability communication efforts on campus are effective yet she also sees room for improvement.
“I could give it a good seven because I see how there is a lot of room for growth, but it also can be difficult to actually convince the institution that there are things that are worth doing if you can’t model out exactly what positive impacts are,” Dame said.
How to convince everyone to care about the planet is the big question, Dame said.  The answer may be found in making sustainability the foundational philosophy of UNCA.  
“I think maybe if UNCA put more effort into making that a university staple, if that is something that is always highlighted, something that UNCA always brags about,” she said. “If we make that something that is characteristic of the university, then we might catch people’s attention more.”

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